Film ID: YFA 3683 Video of YFA 3683 Opening of Ossett Town Hall 1908 OPENING OF OSSETT TOWN HALL 1908 Visitor TabsDescription This film documents the mayoral procession and opening of Ossett Town Hall in June, 1908. The hall was opened by the borough's first mayor, Edward Clay. The film begins with a procession to the Town Hall. Local dignitaries are followed by men in top hats. There is a stage set up at the gates of the Town Hall where the Mayor and other dignitaries sit for the opening. The ceremony begins with a performance from a brass band which is conducted by a man standing at the centre of the stage. This is followed by a few speeches. Clay is then presented with the key to the gates. And when he goes to open the gates, the Mayor is applauded by the large audience. There are a few more speeches given at the opening ceremonies. Finally, the film closes with a shot of the large crowd who has turned out for the event. Context This film was one of several that originally came from the West Yorkshire Archive Service that found their way to the YFA via the North West Film Archive. Unfortunately, as is often the case, no information came with the film, so we don’t know who made it. It can only be assumed that a local filmmaker, and there were a number at that time, decided that this would be a good event to capture on film. This was still a time when actuality films were common: that is, films of real life – events, people and places – taken without any real structure or narrative. The YFA hasn’t, as yet, come across any film from the Ossett area during that same period, until the Wakefield Gala of 1925 (a film which is also uncredited). However, we have much to thank whoever it was who took this very good quality film. It provides a wonderful glimpse into Ossett life at the beginning of the twentieth century. Although Ossett was an independent community in the 19th century, it wasn’t until 30th June 1890 that a charter was granted to make Ossett a municipal borough (under the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882). In 1905 work began on a new town hall with A. W. Hanstock of Batley as the architect. According to the Wakefield City website, “The site chosen was that of the grammar school in the Market Place which was demolished and the school moved to Park House, Storrs Hill Road. The foundation stone, under which was buried a sealed container containing photographs, local journals and coins, was laid on the 27 February 1906 by the Mayor of Ossett, Councillor J Hampshire Nettleton.” Apparently the ceremony took place during a heavy snowstorm. The site overlooked the Market Place, with the Ossett Observer declaring it ‘the finest site in Ossett’. Former Ossett mayor Alec Metcalfe, on the Ossett Civic Trust website, writes that, “The grand scale of the Ossett design and build shows the pride and independence of the 12,000 residents and the wealth of some businesses . . . The first part of the Town Hall to be completed was the Public Hall, so it was appropriate that the first event to be held in the building was a grand choral concert in 1907. London soloists were hired and the orchestra included members of the Halle.” The cost of building and furnishing the new hall was £22,000, paid for by public subscription. An estimated 12,000 people (the entire population!) turned out on the 2 June 1908 for the opening, helped by the fact that it was declared as a half-day holiday. The size of the crowd possibly accounts for the alphabetical placards being held up, presumably to organise them all. As well as what is seen on the film, there was a civic procession followed by festivities in Gedham Field. The funfair may also account for the large number of children present in the watching crowd: how many children today would bother to turn out for such an occasion? The opening ceremony, as seen in the film, was performed by the Mayor of Ossett, Councillor John T Marsden. Ossett Pictures has identified the last speaker on the platform as the Rev. John Henry Kirk, Vicar of South Ossett, (1892 – 1911) who would have been the Mayor’s chaplain at the time. The photo they have of a “scholarly gentleman wearing a mortar-board” seems to have been taken just before the film starts: maybe the same person took both as they were taken from more or less the same position. Alec Metcalfe further notes that Ossett was a well-known “centre for manufacturing shoddy and mungo, with fifty plus enterprises. Wool rags from all over Europe came here to be sorted.” In fact the Borough's first Mayor, Edward Clay, was one of the many such manufacturers (the business remaining in Wesley Street). The Town Hall itself retains many of its original noteworthy features, such as a Compton Organ, Court Room, Council Chamber room, Mayor's parlour and auditorium. Apparently the clock took nearly an hour to wind. Thankfully, it is now a grade II listed building. Perhaps the most striking feature of the film, certainly at the beginning, is the sight of the men, probably all local businessmen, all wearing top hats. Along with the elaborate dress of the women, it looks very Victorian when one thinks that this was at the beginning of the modern age. Top hats, as Wikipedia notes, were often associated with the upper class – and hence frequently used as symbols of greedy capitalism by satirists of the period. By the First World War they had lost their ubiquity, being largely replaced by the bowler hat as the new sign of respectability. Perhaps the best known of Ossett’s past residents is the writer Stan Bairstow, who attended Ossett grammar school and lived there for many years. Bairstow was among the pioneering post-war generation of working class British novelists, alongside other Yorkshire writers John Braine and David Storey – see the Context for Billy Liar on Location (1962). He is perhaps most famous for A Kind of Loving, turned into a film in 1962 with Alan Bates and June Ritchie. For more on Bairstow, and just about anything else relating to Ossett, see the really excellent site put together by Stephen Wilson, ‘Ossett - the history of a Yorkshire town’ (References). References Welcome to Wakefield Ossett Pictures Wakefield Council, Ossett Town Hall Ossett Civic Trust Ruth Nettleton, The history of Ossett Town Hall Ossett - the history of a Yorkshire town Further Information Ruth Nettleton , Ossett Town Hall, published by Ossett Historical Society, 2008.